A career in aviation is often varied. While many paths into the industry are similar, it is rare for two aviators to share identical experiences.  

Nicole Innes, a pilot based in Cape Town, South Africa, says “there are so many facets of aviation,” and you can find the “perfect thing for you.” 

Nicole has been recognized as an Aviation Champion for her dedication to the aviation industry and her support of people in the industry and the next generation of aviators. AeroTime announced the creation of Aviation Champions as a new recognition program for aviation professionals celebrating their dedication to the sector and their ongoing efforts to support, promote, encourage, and inspire people across our industry.  

This video was recorded as part of our International Pilots' Day activities and we are now delighted to publish it as part of our ongoing Aviation Champions initiative.

Nicole’s story weaves together her unique experiences on her journey towards becoming a pilot. 

Today, she is a corporate pilot, while also acting as a volunteer pilot for the South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS). 

However, Nicole’s real passion is helping pilots to realize their dreams by working as a flight instructor, with more than 800 hours of flight instruction under her belt. 

Her desire to help people via teaching, alongside her clear passion for the industry, has allowed Nicole to experience fulfilment as a flight instructor.  

“Being able to take someone with a passion just like yours, and go from zero, knowing absolutely nothing, to [a point] at the end of their training, [where you are] sitting alongside them and they are taking you on a [full] flight and landing without any input from yourself, is an absolutely magical moment,” says Nicole. 

It is such a moment of pride [and] I absolutely enjoy that feeling. You get involved with the start of someone's career and to see them grow. It is quite humbling.” 

Family support  

Nicole found her passion for aviation at the age of 14 after attending an airshow where a 737 flyby grabbed her attention. The event piqued her interest in the world of aviation and just how much she would be able to explore.  

The experience changed her life and Nicole resolved to pursue a career in aviation. Her father proved to be an immense source of support as she navigated this desire.  

Nicole says: “[He was] an absolutely immensely support [and] I think if he hadn’t supported me in that way, I definitely would have chosen another career path, something probably safer.” 

However, Nicole also recalls that she was venturing into an industry that was previously unknown to both her and her family. Questions regarding job security loomed as Nicole’s close family and relatives were uncertain of the prospects offered by a career in the aviation sector.  

“But my father was very encouraging and that helped me immensely,” Nicole says. “If he had said to me, ‘listen, don't go into this,’ I probably would have listened.” 

After completing high school, Nicole joined a flight school in Cape Town, South Africa to kick-start her pilot career.  

Her father helped her to sign up and gather the information required to support her application. However, she quickly encountered a difficulty that affects many pilots – funding! So, Nicole adjusted her approach and decided to combine work with her pilot education. 

“I was able to then start working at the flight school for flight hours,” she says.  

This started out as a part-time arrangement but then, a year later, the flight school asked her to join full-time. The following year, Nicole secured a management position where she was responsible for the flight school’s aircraft. During this time, she gained her private pilot license and had started to build hours towards her commercial pilot license. 

New opportunities  

However, after attaining her commercial pilot's license and instrument rating, she realized that her accumulated flight hours were just under the required amount to land her first job. Shortly afterwards, she was presented with an opportunity to join a drone company. 

She says: “At that time, the drone industry was just starting in South Africa. We had had new regulations on the forefront of implementing that into aviation. So, I thought it was a clever idea to join them, and it gave me an opportunity to start up my training school for drones and give me an idea of what that industry was like.” 

After securing a drone commercial license, Nicole worked as a survey pilot for a period time, while also pursuing her fixed-wing instructor rating.  

Nicole completed her instructor rating, a year after working with the drone company. She then decided to become a full-time flight instructor, a role she carried out for two years. 

But it was the opportunity to become a volunteer pilot for the SA Red Cross AMS that led her to the work she does today and reignite her passion for flying. Part of this role includes inter-facility transfers for the public health care system in South Africa. 

Nicole says that being able to interact with the patients and listening to their stories is an important part of her role. 

She adds: “[When flying] at one in the morning, it's quite good to know that you're making a massive impact on someone's life whether they are receiving a kidney or transporting a little a newborn baby in an incubator because they need urgent medical care, [it’s] a very fulfilling feeling and I really enjoy the volunteering and giving back.” 

For Nicole, being a pilot means doing a job that she loves.  

“Being happy to get up in the morning and go on a new adventure. It means to me that it is always challenging. You are not always going to get that landing 100% correct. So, there is always something to strive for,” she adds.  

Nicole enjoys learning from many different people with many varying levels of experience, but she also encourages aviators to stay flexible when pursuing their own careers. 

“Your plans are not always going to work out how you planned,” she says. “And so, you are always going to have to look for a roundabout way of still getting to your goal or objective. 

“You have to explore other talents that you may have and look into a course that you may want to do or a degree that you may want to do. And, at the end of the day, you could combine [a career in] aviation [with] everything that you enjoy.” 

She continues: “I get a lot of questions from young ladies in high school saying, ‘well, aren't you away from your family a lot?’ And I say to them, there [are] so many facets of aviation, and you can find the exact perfect thing for you. You don't have to be away from your family, you can do freelance work in so many different aspects of aviation. So, I would say, if it's something you are truly passionate about, go for it. There are so many different ways that you can still achieve your dream.” 

Nicole Innes, AeroTime Aviation Champion